By Elizabeth Mangham Lott
Reading about Al Mohler’s embarrassment that he once advocated for female clergy brought to mind the great Anne Lamott story about shopping with her friend. Pam had cancer and just three weeks to live when the two went shopping to find a new outfit for Anne. Anne walked out of the dressing room and asked her best friend, “Does this outfit make me look fat?” To which Pam replied: “Oh, Anne. We don’t have time for that.”
As a daughter of the moderate Baptist movement born while Mohler was a student at my alma mater, Samford University, the only narrative I have ever known about my calling and the moderate Baptist body with which I affiliate is that those other Baptist folks over there do not support me.
Last week’s reminder of Mohler’s position is not really about those other Baptist folks but is about the story I have inherited and the reframing it requires. It is easy to allow the naysayers to shape my own story. After all, I was told by a Southern Baptist pastor as a 17-year-old high-school senior that I should be aware that the devil might try to convince me to preach.
The reality, however, is that no matter our calling or career path someone will always disapprove of what we do and how we do it. When we give too much credence to voices that dismiss our calling from God, we begin to focus on those voices instead of the need to reshape the story we have inherited for the 21st century
While Al Mohler was scouring the books in the library at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, baby girls were being born. Those girls are now old enough to attend moderate Baptist seminaries and divinity schools and stand in pulpits around the world. How should we reframe the narrative for them? How do we shift the story from one of opposition to one of affirmation?
Young women who are now preparing for and entering into ministry need more than a pat on the back of vague affirmation. We must respond with intention. Setting up scholarships for women entering seminary and offering them encouragement along the way is a first step. But the next step is to put them to work. Invite them to lead retreats, welcome them as guests in pulpits and call them to be your pastors.
The story is no longer about who should and should not serve, but about the stories that merge together and unite us in the daily tasks of ministry. We no longer have time for that other story because:
- Mandy is standing at the center of the labyrinth holding the bread and the cup.
- Suzanne is lighting a candle with a mother who held her son as he died.
- Helms is living simply, loving generously and welcoming us into the way of Christ.
- Suzanah is advocating for the safety of mothers around the world who are preparing to give birth.
- Sarah Jane is loving those who never thought they would meet one another over the communion table.
- Lindsay is walking children home from school who are afraid of the kidnappers who wish to sell them into the sex trade.
- Erin is inviting seekers and doubters, people of deep faith and sometimes no faith, to sit together with big questions.
- Nancy and Lynn are walking the prison halls to visit, to bless and to listen.
Letting go of that old story will require us to better know ourselves and give words to the ways God is moving among us. It will require us to bless the past and embrace hope for the future. It will require us to let go of a decades-old paralysis of spirit and pay attention to the life-affirming movement of God’s Spirit at work among us. We don’t have time for any other way forward, because there is Kingdom work to be done.